I have always been a collector. As a child, I collected DC and Marvel comics, Beatles’ memorabilia, and paperback books filled with daily comic strips like Peanuts. I cultivated a slightly twisted sense of humor collecting Addams Family bubble gum cards, issues of Mad Magazine and Mad paperback books. I sought out new and used copies of Famous Monsters of Filmland, which appeared irregularly on the news stand, published by punster, Forrest J. Ackerman. This might have contributed to my affliction for word play.
As I got older, I collected comedy albums, old radio shows, movie posters, 8×10 movie stills, lobby cards, and movie press books. I enjoyed accumulating biographies and books about music, movies, radio, TV, and theatre. 78rpm records, theatre and concert programs, and entertainment based magazines started piling up in the 1970s. For awhile, I even collected stamps.
In the late sixties, while my friends were reading science fiction novels, I collected books about UFO sightings, abductions, and hoaxes. It was an interesting diversion that pretty much ended after I read the questionable, but entertaining, works of Erich von Däniken. All my UFO research made films like Close Encounters of the Third Kind and TV shows like and The X-Files all the more enjoyable in my future past. During the late sixties, I was eagerly watching the skies while watching reruns of the Twilight Zone, One Step Beyond, and a short lived series called The Invaders.
The girls next-door subscribed to Highlights Magazine and owned a bunch of booklets with the word “Phonics” in the title. Jeannie embraced this teaching method with religious fervor and expressed an attitude of superiority over me when it came to her knowledge of the written word. While I was doing my best to learn my times tables using the mimeographed sheets of numbers that I brought home from school. Jeannie had a full deck of Flash Cards that she pulled out of her toy box whenever the subject of multiplication came up. She was quick to correct me when I was wrong. Success went without any sort of reward.
Jeannie was also an expert on sex. She explained the differences between girls and boys to me using her baby sister as a genital model and a medical reference book with celluloid overlay pages to explain what goes on inside the female body. It all seemed pretty technical to me, but she obviously knew more than I did. She was also familiar with male anatomy, or so she said. She went to see Seconds at the Fairfax with her mom. She told me that she saw Rock Hudson naked.
I was an avid book collector at an early age, even before my taste turned to the revolving comic book rack. I was a Little Golden Book junkie getting my weekly fix at the supermarket. Using Tinker Toys, I build a device that dispensed books. It was like a gum ball machine for books. No coin required.
In the second grade, I got my first taste of the school library. The first book that I checked out was The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins by Dr. Seuss. I was a member of the Cat In the Hat Book Club, but this wasn’t one of the books offered. The illustrations were much more detailed and the book was bigger than the standard size of my club editions. It was easier to get lost between the pages of a bigger book. Unlike the Seuss I knew, this Seuss didn’t rhyme.
Soon after my school library initiation, I got my first library card from the Oakland Public Library branch on Foothill Boulevard. Having my own library card made me feel important. I bought a wallet where I could keep it and my address book.
Around this time, Nana bought me a watch and my father bought me a miniature pipe. I didn’t smoke, but it was cool to have what amounted to a real pipe like my father’s. It was a cosmopolitan sort of pipe, not the corncob style sported by Mammy Yocum in the Li’l Abner comic strip. For the most part, my father smoked unfiltered Lucky Strike cigarettes, but he liked to smoke a pipe, have a highball (Canadian Club whiskey and club soda on the rocks), when he read, watched TV, or listened to music.
Even though my father spent most of his life running movie theatres, he seldom watched movies on the big screen, except in snippets. He would watch movies on TV cut to pieces, and broken up by commercials, regularly, but the big screen held no fascination. The only time, I remember going to see a movie as a family was when The Godfather came out in 1972. We were on our way home from a Holiday dinner at my Aunt Margie and Uncle Rocky’s house in Fremont. Margie and Rocky had seen it and were raving about it.
We stopped at the Grand Lake Theatre on our way home to see it. It was custom among theater managers to offer other theater managers a free pass. The manager wasn’t around, but my father knew the cashier. She used to be one of his employees, so there was no problem getting into the movie for free.
We came in about half an hour into the movie and stayed over to watch the beginning. When my father did watch movies, it wasn’t unusual for him to watch it piece meal and put them together in his head later. Linear continuity wasn’t a requirement in my household. Information was gathered and processed in a completely non-linear fashion that made it easy for me to embrace the stream of consciousness radio plays of Arch Oboler and the “un-stuck” novels of Kurt Vonnegut Jr as a teenager.